Across the globe, less than 10% of plastic is recycled every year. This is a relatively disappointing figure – not only because we have the capacity to do more but also because the remaining 90% is rapidly contributing towards climate change and world pollution.
Out of all the plastic waste created, 22% is widely mismanaged. This plastic, even if it is recyclable or reusable, may end up in a landfill or in the seas. According to the EPA, not all plastic is recyclable. However, its damage can be mitigated by ensuring a 30% reuse or recyclability ratio is followed.
Unfortunately, no plastic has ever been reused or recycled to that extent yet. The primary issue, according to experts, is that recyclable plastic is relatively expensive to collect, sort, and recycle compared to new production.
In this article, we will take a closer look at the different types of plastics to understand which one is recyclable and which is not.
Not All Plastics Are Recyclable – Different Types of Plastic
Plastic pollution has become a major environmental issue in recent years, and it's important for us to be aware of the different types of plastic and their properties. This knowledge will not only help us in making informed decisions but also reduce our impact on the environment.
Plastics are generally categorized into seven types, each with different properties, uses, and recycling potential.
1. Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)
It is a common type of plastic used in producing bottles, jars, and packaging materials. It is highly recyclable and widely accepted by recycling facilities.
PET plastic is a type of thermoplastic polymer that is commonly used to make containers for food, drinks, and other consumer goods. It is known for its high strength, clarity, and resistance to chemicals, making it an ideal choice for packaging. However, PET plastic is also one of the most commonly used types of plastic, which can contribute to plastic pollution when not properly disposed of.
The main issue with PET plastic is that it is not biodegradable, meaning it will persist in the environment for hundreds of years. However, it is relatively easy to recycle and reuse. To reduce its impact, there are several steps we can take:
- Reuse: The best way to reduce the impact of PET plastic is to make the collection of plastic easier. By classifying these plastics when disposing of them, consumers can reduce the expense of sorting them. These are not single-use containers, which means you may use them repeatedly to reduce their impact.
- Recycle: When PET plastic is no longer in your use, make sure to recycle it properly. Check the recycling symbol on the container, and recycle it at a facility that accepts plastic bottles.
- Dispose of it properly: If you can't recycle a PET plastic container, make sure to dispose of it properly. Don't litter, and dispose of it in a trash can or recycling bin.
By taking these steps, we can help reduce the impact of PET plastic on the environment and ensure that it is recycled properly.
2. High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
HDPE is a thermoplastic polymer that is widely used in a variety of products due to its strength, durability, and resistance to moisture and chemicals. Some of the most common applications of HDPE include milk jugs, detergent bottles, and grocery bags.
It is highly recyclable and is one of the most commonly recycled plastics globally. The recycling process of HDPE starts with the collection of used products and transporting them to a recycling facility. The plastic is then sorted and cleaned to remove any contaminants. After cleaning, the plastic is melted and reformed into new products such as pipes, decking, and outdoor furniture.
One of the benefits of HDPE recycling is that it conserves natural resources and reduces the amount of waste that goes into landfills. Furthermore, HDPE recycling reduces greenhouse gas emissions associated with producing virgin plastic, as it takes less energy to recycle HDPE than to produce new plastic from raw materials.
3. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
PVC is a thermoplastic polymer made from petroleum and salt and is commonly used in construction applications, such as pipes and electrical cable insulation, as well as in consumer products like clothing and toys. PVC is durable and flexible and has excellent electrical and chemical resistance properties.
However, PVC is a prime example of how not all plastic is recyclable and is considered a non-recyclable plastic. This is because it contains additives and stabilizers, making it difficult to recycle and resulting in its disposal in landfills. When PVC is burned, it releases toxic chemicals into the air and contributes to the release of greenhouse gas, which can harm the environment.
There are alternatives to PVC that are more environmentally friendly and can be recycled, such as polyethylene and polypropylene. These materials have similar properties to PVC and are more easily recyclable. Additionally, some companies are exploring innovative ways to recycle PVC, such as converting it into fuel or using it as a raw material in the production of new plastic products.
4. Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
This type of plastic is used in producing plastic bags, food packaging, and squeezable bottles. It is considered to be less recyclable compared to other types of plastic and should be used less to avoid its impact.
5. Polypropylene (PP)
Polypropylene is used in a variety of products, including food containers, plastic car parts, and packaging materials. It is recyclable, but the recycling process is more complicated compared to other types of plastic.
6. Polystyrene (PS)
Polystyrene is commonly used in the production of disposable coffee cups, packing materials, and food packaging. It is not widely recyclable and is often difficult to recycle. Furthermore, there have been several studies that show how polystyrene may lead to toxicity and other health issues.
This category includes all other types of plastic that do not fall under the above categories. This type of plastic is often made from a mixture of materials and is often not recyclable.
What to Do About Plastics That Cannot Be Recycled
We must understand the different types of plastic and how to properly dispose of them. Plastics are classified into seven categories based on the type of polymer used and are identified by a number inside the recycling symbol, commonly referred to as the "Resin Identification Code."
- Types 1 and 2 are polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE). These are the most commonly recycled plastics.
- Types 3 through 7 include PVC to PS. They are not easily recyclable and are often considered non-recyclable. 
It is important to note that even if plastic is technically recyclable, it may not be accepted by local recycling programs. Therefore, checking with your local recycling center to see what types of plastic they accept is crucial.
For non-recyclable plastics, the best option is to reduce usage and waste. This can be achieved by choosing alternative products made from biodegradable materials, avoiding single-use plastics, and properly disposing of non-recyclable plastics in the trash.
It is important to understand the different types of plastic and their recycling potential, especially when it comes to disposing of them. While some types of plastic are highly recyclable, others are not. You may not always be able to choose which one to use, but when trying to recycle them, you should consider sorting them properly or having a dedicated recycling company handle them for you.
We need to take care of the environment by properly disposing of plastics and reducing our usage of non-recyclable materials. If we work together, we can positively impact the planet.